Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

What I Have Seen And Heard (December 22, 2011)

By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published December 22, 2011

I’ve now made it somewhat of a personal campaign that whenever a person wishes me the generic greeting “happy holidays,” I respond with an enthusiastic “Merry Christmas.” I suppose that for some people it might seem just an inconsequential gesture, but I have become more and more frustrated at the progressively growing and quite obvious attempt to eliminate any specific religious references to the 25th of December.

I know full-well the oft-repeated arguments that suggest that such a nondescript greeting is intended not to offend those who may not be Christians, or to highlight a humanistic spirit that is inclusive of everyone, or to recognize that the date of December 25th is an arbitrary selection since the actual historic date of Jesus’ birth may never really be known.

I know all of those arguments, as well as the fact that the early Christians chose this date to commandeer an earlier Greco-Roman civic feast of the unconquered sun.

I recognize all of those arguments, but I also know that this date is part of a most important portion of the religious heritage of those of us who are Christians and who consider the Birth of Jesus a central moment in our faith heritage.

We don’t ask those who wish us a Merry Christmas to embrace our faith—although we certainly hope that they might. We don’t wish to offend those who hold other religious faiths. The Catholic Church officially extends public greetings to a whole host of religious communities on the occasions that mark special moments in the lives of those religious communities: beginning with our Jewish and Islamic friends, as well as our Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist colleagues. In short, we Catholics realize that believers hold sacred certain times in the calendar and that publicly recognizing those moments is an expression of honor to the dignity and humanity of the people who embrace a particular faith tradition.

We Catholics have also learned that lesson after we ourselves have been guilty throughout history of not respecting the religious liberty and freedom of other people. There are too many historic occasions when we ourselves have been guilty of being disrespectful of this fact of the human dignity and religious freedom of others and for that we have repeatedly expressed our sorrow, our regret and our remorse. Blessed John Paul II was brilliant in acknowledging the sorrow and remorse of the Church for past sins of discrimination, bigotry and violence against others who did not share our faith. Religious people of all persuasions have inflicted far too much violence on one another throughout history. That having been said, we also must proudly acknowledge our own faith and the rich religious traditions that belong to us as Christians.

I don’t suppose that the current aggressive secularist push-back will pass from the scene in my lifetime, but I do intend to keep publicly acknowledging December 25th as the celebration of the Birth of the Lord Jesus, while also respecting the faith heritage of others as a sign of my reverence for them as persons of inherent dignity. This, after all, is the very reason that the Christ Child was born in poverty and obscurity to bestow a profound sense of dignity upon even those who seem to count for nothing in the eyes of the world.

His Redemptive Death and Resurrection have bestowed upon all of humanity a dignity that can never be overlooked, compromised or denied at any point in the life of any person from the moment of conception to that of natural death—anymore than the fact that He was born can be negated!

Merry Christmas, my dearest brother and sisters. May 2012 be for us all a more peace-filled and blessed year of life.